Joseph Stilwell, the son of a businessman, was born in Florida on 19th March 1883. He attended the West Point Military Academy and graduated in 1904 (32/124) and was commissioned as an infantryman.
Stilwell served in the Philippines before returning to West Point to teach English, French, Spanish and History. An outstanding sportsman, he also coached basketball, athletics, baseball and football.
General George Marshall, who had been impressed with Stilwell when he was head of the tactical section of the Infantry School, arranged for him to become commander of the 7th Infantry Division in July 1940. The following year he became head of the 3rd Corps.
Promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, he was sent to establish American Army Forces, China, Burma and India (CBI). By the time he had arrived in India on 25th February 1942, Singapore and Burma had both been invaded by the Japanese Army . He immediately began talks with Chaing Kai-Shek, the military leader in China. Eventually Kai-Shek gave permission for Stilwell to take command of Chinese forces in Burma.
On 2nd May 1942, General Harold Alexander, Allied commander in Burma, ordered a general retreat to India. An aircraft was provided to take Stilwell and his staff out of the country. However, Stilwell refused the offer claiming that it would have a bad psychological effect on his Chinese troops. Stilwell now began his long march and covering about 15 miles a day through difficult terrain, reached Delhi on 24th May. However, by this time most of his troops had deserted and gone back to China.
Stilwell established the American Army Forces, China, Burma and India headquarters in New Delhi and Ramgarh became the main training centre for Chinese troops in India. Chaing Kai-Shek also gave Stilwell command of what was left of the 22nd and 38th Divisions of the Chinese Army.
In February 1943, Orde Wingate and 3,000 Chindits were sent to Burma. Their task was to disrupt Japanese communications, attack outposts and destroy bridges. The operation was very costly and of the 2,000 who returned, 600 never recovered to be able to fight again.
Orde Wingate met Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt in August 1943 and explained his theory of Long Range Penetration. Churchill was impressed and agreed to expand the size of the Chindits and Wingate was promoted to major general and given six brigades (3rd Indian Division). Roosevelt also decided to create a similar group led by the the American officer, Frank Merrill.
Orde Wingate returned to India in September 1943 and began to plan Operation Thursday. The plan was aimed at destroying Japanese communications from southern Burma to those fighting Stilwell in the north and William Slim in Imphal and Kohima.
On 24th February 1944, Major General Frank Merrill and his troops, known as the Merrill's Marauders, attacked the 18th Japanese Division in Burma. This action enabled Stilwell to gain control of the Hakawing Valley.
Operation Thursday was launched by Orde Wingate in Burma on 5th March, 1944. The Chindits established Broadway, a jungle clearing 200 miles behind Japanese lines. This included an airstrip that enabled supplies and reinforcements to be flown in and the wounded flown out. Over the next few months the Chindits destroyed Japanese roads, railways, bridges and convoys. Once again the Chindits suffered heavy losses. Wingate was himself killed when his plane crashed into a hillside near Imphal during a storm on 14th March 1944.
By May 1944 Major General Frank Merrill had lost 700 men and had to be reinforced with Chinese troops. On the way to Myitkyina the Marauders marched for 750 miles and fought in 5 major engagements and 32 skirmishes with the Japanese Army. Casualties were high and only 1,300 Marauders reached their objective and of these, 679 had to be hospitalized. This included Merrill who had suffered a second-heart attack before going down with malaria. The rest of the Marauders had to wait for reinforcements before Myitkyina was taken on 3rd August 1944.
In August 1944 Stilwell was promoted to full general and two months later was recalled to the United States and was replaced by General Albert Wedemeyer. He was appointed as head of Armed Ground Forces until given the task of replacing General Simon Buckner as commander of the 10th Army.
Stilwell arrived at Okinawa on 23rd June but by that time the battle was virtually over and the following month he took over from Chester Nimitz as military governor of the Ryukyus. Considered to be temperamentally unsuitable for this job he was recalled to Washington in October 1945. Joseph Stilwell died of stomach cancer on 12th October 1946.